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The Reasons why there are Spirit Houses in Thailand


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Spirit Houses in #Thailand: A commentary with video and photos.

San phra bhumi. Thailand’s Spirit Houses.

Every home in Thailand, and most businesses, will have a san phra bhumi or spirit house on the premises. If you stay in a hotel or guesthouse you will see one in a corner of the reception area. Thai homes will have a spirit house in a corner of their garden. They come in all shapes and sizes: some basic, some very elaborate.

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Buddhism and Animism live amicably side by side in The Land of Smiles. The Sangha, the national Buddhist authority, makes no objections to the practice of people apparently being Buddhist while still worshiping ancestors. The Thais are comfortable in following Buddhist teachings and beliefs while still venerating their deceased relatives and those who lived on the land before them. The houses are for the spirits of the dead and are built so that their souls do not enter the main buildings of the living. They are made to be as comfortable as possible for these spirits. Food and drink is placed in the san phra bhumi each morning. Bananas, rice, packaged snacks, and soft drinks are the typical fare. Because red is an auspicious colour for the Thais, red-coloured soft drinks such as Fanta (nam daeng) are the chosen drinks that are offered. Red is a lucky colour in Thailand and many countries of the Far East. The food and drink offerings are discretely discarded the next morning before fresh donations are provided. A few months ago I saw a small bottle of beer placed as an offering. That was quite unusual and I noted that it didn’t stay there very long.








The spirit house is a miniature replica of a Thai sala, a meeting place within the wat compound, with its ornamental sloping roof. It can be made of wood or concrete and be on stilts or on a pedestal. If the san phra bhumi is moved for any reason a new ceremony must be performed by a village elder as an apology to the spirits. I inadvertently moved a spirit house to clean around it and reposition it in what I thought was a better location in the garden. I was not hanged, drawn, and quartered but I was told in no uncertain terms that spirit houses are for the spirits and are not to be moved. The ceremony, which I dutifully attended, lasted an hour. Sometimes a new san phra bhumi is erected after a person has died in a house. His spirit then lives with all former spirits. Again, there is a formal ceremony.


You will see the Thais placing josh sticks and flowers in the spirit house and you may notice little figurines there too. Often, small porcelain figures of a man and a woman to represent the previous occupiers of the house (the spirits are not always those of family: they can be of previous owners that the present residents do not want to displease by living in their former home). Models of children and animals are less common but are provided to make the spirits “feel at home”. In the san phra bhumi of richer people you will see the figures include servants, domestic animals, and anything useful for the afterlife. Most Thais take looking after their spirit houses seriously and attend to them daily.


Some are rather run down. There is a wide gap between rich and poor in Thailand.






Some  are abandoned at the local wat. Even then offerings may be left.









If you travel up country you will see spirit houses at accident black spots. Drivers will take their hands off the wheel to wai in respect as they pass.

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